EU leaders gathering in Brussels today (23 April) will consider launching a military operation against human traffickers in Libya, held responsible for the deaths of thousands of migrants this year in the Mediterranean, a draft statement showed.
In the draft statement seen by AFP on Wednesday, leaders will commit to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”.
The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini “is invited to immediately begin preparations for a possible security and defence policy operation to this effect, in accordance with international law”, the draft added.
A diplomatic source said the EU’s 28 member states were widely mobilised to approve the statement’s wording, reflecting a growing willingness to launch an operation to fight the traffickers.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Monday evoked the possibility of “targeted interventions” against the Libya-based human smugglers that would fall short of a full military intervention.
“You can’t be serious about this problem if you don’t take Prime Minister Renzi’s proposals seriously though you have to go through the legal and operational issues,” said a senior European official on the condition of anonymity.
If accepted, the operation would be the first time EU governments turned to military options to fight illegal migration towards its shores.
“It’s implementation would take time. It’s complicated,” the diplomatic source warned.
EU leaders opened the summit on the Mediterranean migrant crisis at 1400 GMT Thursday, under major pressure to stem the increasingly deadly flow of refugees trying to reach Europe by sea from Africa.
Calls for action mounted after a devastating ship disaster on Sunday, in which 800 people are feared to have died off Libya.